Ray was pleased to be invited. He seldom received surprise invitations. He accepted immediately, with a $50 check. Carl Young, bearded, overweight, gruff and funny, was a golfing buddy. Their kids had gone to school together. Ray had supported the Institute’s charitable endeavors for years but never attended a festschrift. What’s a festschrift? Google told him: in or at a festschrift, big in the Germanic academic tradition, scholars share writings honoring another one of their number, prominent through achievement, intelligence, popularity, or years of service, as the case might be. Often the invitees convene in person with the honoree. There a select number recite from their papers, give speeches or discuss topics near and dear to the honoree. The writings and transcripts of oral presentations are bound in a volume and presented to him or her.
A special twist here: the post-festschrift dinner at the home of Ms. Freed, a member of the Institute. Anna was conservative: quiet, neat, never trendy, well dressed but not flashy, handsome but not striking. Ray and wife Frances had been patients of Anna’s for a time, after suffering a rough patch on the matrimonial highway. Anna was an excellent, helpful therapist. However, her never sharing any personal information irritated Ray. Anna stoutly, too stoutly for Ray, followed the Freudian psychotherapy tenet of walling off her personal life from her patients. The dinner would be a clever way for Ray to jump the barrier, discern the real Anna at last. Disapproving Frances refused to participate in his scheme. She stayed home.
At the Festschrift in the Institute’s auditorium, strikingly like a classroom of theatre seats and whiteboard at a prosperous college, the papers were celebratory and insular, peppered with arch in-jokes and scholarly allusions. There were few lay attendees besides Ray. Anna entered the room late—from supervising the dinner preparation perhaps. She clearly noticed Ray, took a seat far from him in another row, stared straight ahead.
Ray saw, knew it right away: his attending the dinner would only pain Anna. She wanted no personal contact with him. He was playing a dirty trick on someone who lived by professional rules she held dear. At her home Ray might see something private she cared about, but the unseemly intrusion would taint his knowledge, give him no pleasure. Perhaps he developed this perception from his sessions with Anna.
Cheerful applause for retiring, smiling Carl Young closed the Festschrift. Ray headed for the door. There stood the Institute’s secretary, dressed in a becoming, colorful suit, jewelry and heels for her night out with the bosses.
“See you at the dinner, Ray?”
“Nope. Consider my $50 a contribution. I’m headed straight home. Maybe Frances would like a late supper out.”